Thousands flee to higher ground as Guyana hit by heavy flooding

Published: 20 January 2005 0:00 CET

Allison Ali in Trinidad

Guyana is experiencing its worst floods it in several years. More that 20,000 people have been affected as the country continues to be drenched with heavy rains.

The country has been experiencing torrential rains since 26 December, 2004 and there is no sign of them easing. Over one metre of rain has fallen since 26 December, the most for a comparable period in more than 100 years, and the Meteorological Office in Guyana has predicted another week of heavy rainfall.

Rising flood waters forced thousands to abandon their homes on 18 January while schools, stores and government offices closed.

The only state-owned radio station went off air as floodwater made its way into the studios, while the Ogle Municipal Airport east of Georgetown was also forced to close. Georgetown’s main airport is still open and accepting flights, but it is doubtful it will remain open if flooding continues.

Police reported at least one road fatality on Monday, when a minibus skidded off a highway and crashed into a house, killing an unidentified passenger. There have been no more reports of casualties. Dozens of vehicles remained submerged in ditches and canals.

“The flooding is very bad. It is the worst we have seen in years,” said Dorothy Fraser, director general of the Guyana Red Cross, whose headquarters in Georgetown have also been affected by the rising flood waters.

“We have been trying desperately to move relief materials and other items which the Red Cross uses on a daily basis to higher ground. Volunteers have been working around the clock to secure the contents of the headquarters as well as monitor the situation which seems to be worsening,” added Mrs Fraser.

The areas under water are mainly from Golden Grove to Georgetown and the most affected communities are Albouystown, Shopia, Better Hope, Coldingen, Enterprise Gardens, Paradise and Enmore which are located in eastern regions 1, 4, 5 and 6.

Heath and sanitation is becoming a major concern as sewerage mains have burst, releasing raw sewage into the water. Health centres have been operating for extended periods. Where health centres are flooded out and inoperable, alternative arrangements are being made to have the services delivered in a suitable location.

Mrs Fraser explained that the people residing in affected regions live in very deplorable conditions and the flooding has worsened their living situation. The streets are totally impassable along the eastern coast, making it difficult for the Red Cross to reach those that are affected.

The Red Cross’ staffing has also been reduced because several staff and volunteers have been affected and are experiencing difficulty in getting to work. The Red Cross headquarters has been transformed into a shelter but the building is only operating thanks to a standby generator, since electricity is down in most areas.

“The Red Cross Children’s Home is open and about five volunteers are operating it around the clock. Many of the regular staff have not been able to leave their own homes. On Tuesday we assisted a church group to prepare about 120 meals which was delivered by a volunteer using a vehicle high enough to negotiate the roads,” Fraser explained.

The Guyanese government has asked the Red Cross to prepare meals for those affected. The government will make arrangements to have the meals delivered. A private business and a Shell oil outlet assisted the Red Cross in acquiring fuel for cooking. Food supplies have been given on credit from a grocery.

The International Federation is expected to release some 150,000 Swiss francs from it Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to assist the Guyana Red Cross with its relief operation.

Mrs Fraser also noted that the Red Cross was trying to reach flooded communities to provide First Aid. “Posters on water and sanitation have been sent by the Red Cross to both radio and television stations for broadcasting, but even those lines of communication are out in some areas.”